The Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) is casting about for some new ideas for defeating roadside bombs in Afghanistan, and the search is taking it deep into the world of the fertilizer industry. Specifically, it wants some help in coming up with ways to stop the steady flow of ammonium nitrate fertilizer-packed IEDs that have become the biggest killer of NATO troops in the war. The organization has just released a Broad Area Announcement asking industry to pitch it some solutions to the problem of fertilizer-based IEDs, and the announcement contains some surprising requests.
The organization is looking for a couple things. First, it’ll take any studies that will “define the signatures and available observables” for these explosives, as well as “aid in the development of capabilities to counter these threats.” More significantly, JIEDDO wants to essentially reconfigure the chemical composition of the fertilizer “that decrease detonability and explosive output” along with additives and methods to “disrupt or discourage HME manufacturing from fertilizer precursors.” Also helpful would be the development or the identification of additives that would assist in the “increased detection and identification of HMEs and precursors during transport, manufacture and IED emplacement.”
This is just another twist in a decade of war that has seen some strange things happen. But this: a Department of Defense office that wants to essentially reconfigure how fertilizer is made, has got to be one of the strangest.
But it makes sense. Trying to find ways to reduce the use of ammonium nitrate to make roadside bombs in Afghanistan has been at the top of the agenda for JIEDDO’s chief, Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, since he took over the organization last year. And it’s easy to understand why. Eighty percent of the improvised explosive devices planted in Afghanistan, and 90 percent of all U.S. casualties there, are caused by ammonium nitrate-packed bombs, whose components come from just two legally operating factories in Pakistan. Each year, the two factories pump out about 400,000 metric tons of ammonium nitrate with about one percent of that making it into insurgent hands.